Holding Cruise Ships Liable for Errors Committed by Their Medical Staff

Before 2014, many cruise companies that faced medical malpractice lawsuits were able to get these legal actions dismissed even before trial. Prior to 2014, courts decisions have always been in the favor of cruise companies, exempting them from any legal responsibility (even if the medical team that these have on board has failed to provide passengers the treatment they need) and telling patients that they should not demand from ships’ doctors and nurses the same level of medical care as on land; besides, ship doctors and nurses are beyond the direct control of cruise lines since they are private contractors.

This aura of immunity from medical malpractice is a result of decades of court decisions that have consistently acquitted cruise liners from medical negligence/liability. One case cruise companies rely upon is the 1988 Barbetta v. S.S. Bermuda Star lawsuit, wherein the court ruled that the duty of a carrier is to make sure that it employs a competent and duly qualified doctor; failure to do so would be violation of its duty. If the doctor hired, however, commits an act of (medical) negligence, then he/she alone, not the carrier, will be held accountable for whatever harm or injury such negligence results to.

A 2014 incident that occurred onboard one famous cruise ship, however, led judges to reconsider the soundness of exempting cruise ships from any medical liability. This is based on the following facts:

  • Doctors and nurses are presented as ship personnel or employees and that their wearing of the cruise ship uniform is direct proof of this;
  • Today’s cruise ships have advanced laboratories, intensive care units and technologies which will easily enable their medical personnel to link with medical experts on shore through live video conferencing; and,
  • Cruise ships take pride in their onboard medical center, making sure that this is included in their promotional materials.

Fortunately, the only treatment required by most travelers is remedy for bruises, indigestion, sea sickness and sun burns. But, though safe from any serious medical condition, they will definitely not be safe from expensive infirmary bills, which most health plans do not cover, by the way. As regards those whose condition really needs emergency attention (like drowning, stroke, heart attack, allergic reactions and appendicitis) the major issue is that most likely they will not receive the treatment they need on time or, even if they would be treated, in many instances, treatment will be from the hands of those who lack training or who are more panicky than in control of what they are doing.

In its website, the law firm Louis A. Vucci, PA, points out the unnecessary risk of injury suffered by many cruise passengers at the hands of members of a ship’s medical staff who lack training, especially for emergency situations, or who are not just capable of providing the standard of care that passengers should receive.

Though the laws governing cruise ship accidents are much more complex than the laws governing land accidents, there will always be a legal means for passengers, who get injured in cruise holidays, to get the compensation that they legally deserve. There are different ways through which injured passengers may seek and receive compensation; however, the best means may be by being represented by a highly-qualified cruise ship injury lawyer.

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